As the Orchestra struck up the music and the dance floor of the Waldorf Astoria glittered into life, Florence stood up. She reluctantly took the outstretched hand of her long time dancing partner, Old Nick. As he swept her elegantly into the diaphanous throng of chiffon and lace she stumbled. His vice like grip on her arm and steely glare ensured she would not cause him further embarrassment. She flinched and blinked away hot tears of anger and shame. It hadn’t always been like this. They were so in step before…
Florence once thrilled at being in the company of rich and influential Nick Mephistopheles. He wasn’t handsome and his age was indeterminate, but he had charisma and a dark charm. Nick’s business practices were more than shady, but as long as she was on the receiving end of his largesse Florence didn’t give a damn what people said about him. There were rumours he was part of the underworld, they said there were other women but she didn’t care. Florence was a night girl, drawn to danger. Nick’s lifestyle was an aphrodisiac. They said he ruled New York City and went for the jugular of anyone who opposed him. Was she afraid? No, it didn’t seem to worry her, it gave her a rush. She didn’t give a thought that there may be a heavy price to pay for his patronage when their first dance had begun all those years ago.
“What kind of business are you in, Nick?” Florence asked with an engaging smile,
“I’m a people person, a collector,” his reply was enigmatic and further enquiries subdued by the string of exquisite black pearls he draped around her slender neck.
“How can I possibly repay your generosity, kind Sir?” She already knew she would do anything for him. The lavish Manhattan lifestyle was highly addictive for a girl from a Brooklyn brownstone.
“Oh, I guess body and soul should be payment enough, yours and others I send you to collect!” There was a twinkle in his coal black eyes and she thought he had jested. Back then. Back when the dance had begun.
Nick was generous. Florence only had to express a desire and it was hers for the taking, fabulous jewels, designer clothes, the Fifth Avenue apartment and the prestige of being on his arm. All the hedonistic delights the city offered were hers for the taking. New York was his plaything, a bauble in his hand. No one quite knew where Nick’s power came from. No one dared to ask…
Nick liked to work hard and party hard. He liked all eyes on him and he had a ruthless and vindictive streak with rivals in both the ballroom and the boardroom. Florence was a huge asset to his dealings. Nick rewarded most handsomely when she performed. With a Siren’s call her beauty brought victims to Nick’s lair. It was all a game to Florence, well paid with a hint of danger. She liked that. The glitter and glamour were as seductive as hell and Florence willingly checked in all morality and conscience. The years passed and she continued taking to the dance floor and dancing to Mr Mephistopheles tune. No questions asked.
Tonight, there was unease in the air. Florence was tiring of their ‘Les Liaisons Dangereuses’and told him she wanted out. She told him she wanted more, she wanted love. Nick laughed in her face then grew possessive and wrapping his strong fingers around her neck he drew her close.
“Florence, we have a contract. I own you, body and soul.”
As she tried to pull away he kissed her hard on her ruby lips. There was none of the usual passion, just a stamp of ownership. She shuddered. The ballroom had become a prison and her dancing partner her gaoler. They had sealed the deal a long time ago – When you dance with the devil, there is no way out…
It was time for a new dancing partner. Nick would have to go. As the thought crossed her mind, she saw the Stranger and he saw her. And Nick saw him too. Savagely he grabbed her wrist, and snarled,“Stay with me, Florence. Better the devil you know...”
Florence broke free and without looking back made her way across the empty dance floor. All eyes were on her, but she saw no one only the charismatic stranger. He seemed to emit a numinous light. Music sublimely filled the ballroom and she moved inexorably into his arms.
“Do you want to dance?” she whispered seductively.
“Only, if you are willing to forsake Nick’s protection and come with me to the end of time, Florence.” He brushed her face with beguiling lips and shuddering she realised his mouth was as cold as the grave.
“I will…” she paused looking back at Nick’s table, but he was nowhere to be seen.
As the stranger held out his hand, it dawned on her he knew her name, but she did not know his. Just who was this beguilingly beautiful man? With prescience, he smiled and answered the question swimming in her mind.
As she gasped, he swept her into his arms and onto the dance floor. The Orchestra struck up the music and the plaintive strains of Sibelius’ ‘Valse Triste’ filled the air. The Last Waltz would truly last forever as Florence danced with the devil to the edge of darkness…
© Eily Nash 2015
Beautiful Images courtesy of Pixabay.com
“Dancing To the Edge Of Darkness” from my collection of Supernatural Tales, available on Amazon as paperback & Kindle.
“Wild is the beauty Of Barra’s Land
Harsh Waves Crash Upon Silver Sand
My True Love Abandoned Me Today
Left Our Unborn Child To Sail Away
Brought To My Knees, Left in Poverty
For A siren’s Call Across The Seven Seas”
I’ve always been fascinated by abandoned places and the fragments of the past lingering in the stale air. Is it the remnants of lost hopes, I sense? Fragments of dreams and burnt out desires? The Croft was one of those places with so many stories to tell and I wanted to hear them.
Tapping into residual energies? It is what I do and I’ve never questioned it, accepting it just ‘is what it is.’ They never leave, those old ghosts from the past, their memories becoming just another layer on the atmosphere. And if they chose to reveal their secrets, as a whisper on the wind, then I have a greedy ear to listen.
I walked over to a small wooden framed window, dirty panes of glass, eyes dully staring without seeing, the wild beauty of the land. The taste of sea salt hung in the air flung up by harsh waves beating down upon soft silver sands. Who stood there, looking out at me looking in? Did they ever wonder what lay on the edge of the horizon, what lay over the sea from Barra to Skye. Intrigued and wanting to know more I approached the door, coated in peeling paint of soft pink and covered in lichen. It beckoned to be opened. I reached out and grasped the iron handle, blackened and rusted with age, expecting it to be cold to the touch. Instead I felt it crackle as a jolt of electricity ran up my arm. The magic had begun, hands from the past were still imprinted on the handle. A melancholy creak and the door opened, allowing me admittance to a forgotten world. Who would be waiting and would they be willing to speak? Would I have too many questions, for which there were too few answers?
And then I heard her! A soft whisper in my ear as gentle as the kiss of a summer breeze.
“I’m still here.”
“Talk to me,” I said, “tell me your story.” And she did.
Flora was her name, a bonny lass with red hair, flowing like molten lava down her slim back. She shyly lifted her head to look at me, her eyes filled with innocent guise, and matching her simple muslin dress, a splash of cobalt blue in a grey place.
The impressions came flooding in, gossamer threads of the fabric of her life. She’d loved him and leaving the comfort and protection of her Father’s castle walls ran away with her Sailor boy, freely crossing over the sea from Skye to be with him in the croft.
Life was harsh but Flora comforted herself when it was cold outside the flames of passion and desire he ignited in her were all she needed. The warmth of his love and the fire burning brightly in the grate would keep bad at bay. Until the fire went out, leaving ashes and dust…
Slowly Flora came to realise she was not enough for her man. She shared him with his Mistress. It was a bitter blow to see his eyes light up when he heard the siren’s call, in a way they no longer did for her. With sad resignation Flora knew, once his Mistress summoned him, he would go. Much as he loved his young wife, when the sea whispered his name, he was lost.
Many a moon tide she stood waiting upon a lonely shore, looking out to sea and praying for his safe return. He would return. He always did once the yearning to be free and sail the seven seas had been assuaged, then he would hold her and love her and she would forgive and forget. Hope burnt brightly within her innocent heart. He was her lover, her friend and husband in the eyes of God above and father of her children yet to be born. Bonny bairns who would play at her feet. Strong sons who one day would go to sea and ease their poverty, such dreams had she!
I sensed the atmosphere change. Anticipation, excitement and the thrill of laying in his arms replaced by a dull dread.
Silence. She was fading.
“What happened, can you tell me?”
Outside the sky was blackening, dark storm clouds approached. I smelt the promise of rain, harsh and bitter.
“Ohh..Flora…” I felt her pain, “Talk to me…”
I heard the rasp of the door swinging open.She had no words left. It was time to go. I took a final look around and followed her out. The croft was empty, love did not live here any more.
The tide was going out and I made haste down to the beach, passing a rocky outcrop of granite monoliths. Had she too passed this way? Were the stones silent sentinels witnessing her silent scream as day became night and night day as she waited, fear descending as a clammy shroud.
At the closing of the day, as the light was fading away, I saw her standing there upon her lonely shore. Calling, calling…
But her love did not hear, for he was lost to the deep embrace of a cold, cruel sea. The siren had called. He would not return.
Her words were carried on the wind over the sea to Skye for no one to hear but me…
© Eily Nash & Steve Hynes ~2018
I am indebted to Steve Hynes for permission to use his atmospheric photography and for the gift of sharing his beautiful writing which brought Flora’s tale to life.